KATERI TEKAKWITHA: “LILY OF THE MOHAWKS”
The first Aboriginal woman elevated to sainthood, Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 on the shores of the Mohawk River in New York state. When she was 4, a smallpox epidemic took her whole family, leaving her with weak vision and a scarred face. She was raised by her aunt and her uncle, who was a Mohawk chief.
After the epidemic, her community moved across the river to Caughnawaga, where she met Jesuit missionaries. She suffered greatly from persecution by her family and members of the tribe, who were against the conversion to Christianity of native peoples. In 1676, she was baptised “Catherine,” or “Kateri” in Mohawk. The next year, fearing for her safety, she fled to the Saint Francis Xavier de La Prairie mission. She had help from the Jesuit missionaries, who sent her with a note describing her great devotion to God and identifying her as “the precious Kateri Tekakwitha.” The mission’s church practically became her home. A pious soul, she fasted and prayed for her people to accept the Good News. She died three years later, in 1680, at the age of 24. Within a quarter of an hour, her face took on a startling beauty. Her intercession led to heavenly favours and miracles for Aboriginal people and colonists throughout New France.